Hiking is a very enjoyable and healthy activity, however trails can pose many dangers for people who are not properly prepared. Each year, local volunteer run rescue groups respond to dozens of hikers who become lost in the woods, many more receive injuries, and, unfortunately, some even lose their lives. It is very important that you read the following safety tips as well as educate yourself about the environment, terrain, wildlife, and weather conditions that you may run into.
Tell someone where you are going
Always tell someone what trail you will be hiking, where that trail is, and when you expect to be back, that way if you become injured or do not make it back, rescuers will know where to begin their search.
Most wilderness and remote areas of British Columbia do not have cell phone access including forest and mountain areas that may only be a few kilometers from urban and populated areas. Never rely on your cellphone incase of emergencies.
Bring enough water and food
Make sure to bring lots of water on your hike. A lot of trails are longer than 3 hours with steep, uphill climbs and on a hot day, that may mean your body requires several liters of water. Also, contrary to what most believe, the running rivers, including those from glaciers, do not provide fresh water and you can become sick from various bacteria that breed in these waters.
Also, make sure to pack extra food for the day including a meal and several power bars or other snacks. Choose snacks that will help keep your energy level high and your mind alert.
Never hike by yourself
Always hike with a friend or, preferably in a group. If something goes wrong or you become injured, your hiking partner(s) can help get you to safety. The wilderness area is vast and it is possible that you may be the only person on that trail that day. Therefore, hike with a friend and group.
Besides, hiking with a group of people is more fun and can be a really sociable way to spend the day with friends.
Ensure good physical conditioning
The trails around Vancouver can be very difficult and physically demanding. It is therefore important that you are in good physical shape and you know and respect your physical limits.
Expect to have no cellphone reception on your hike. The majority of hikes throughout British Columbia do not have cell phone reception, including many of the hikes on the North Shore mountains near Vancouver. Even though you are within a kilometre of "civilization", there is a good chance you will not be able to use your phone to call for help, so take the proper essentials and do your research before you leave.
Wear good, comfortable shoes
Some of the terrain on the trails can be very rugged, rocky, or even muddy so it is important to wear shoes that are comfortable and sturdy enough to endure these kinds of elements.
What To Bring - The 10 Essentials
- Flashlight - Pack a flashlight or headlamp with spare batteries. Forested trails often become darker before sunset and having a flashlight with you can ensure you make it out even when it's dark.
- Fire-making Kit - Waterproof matches are preferred or pack regular matches or a lighter in a plastic bag. Being able to start a fire may make the difference between staying warm at night and increasing your chance of survival.
- Signalling Device - A whistle will help signal rescuers to your location. We recommend a Fox 40 whistle which is loud and lightweight.
- Extra Food and Water - Pack extra high-energy food bars and water for your trip. Eating and drinking water to keep your energy as high as possible during the time you are lost will help your mental and physical ability, increasing your chances of a rescue.
- Extra Clothing - Pack extra clothing such as a jacket and gloves to ensure that you stay warm if you are lost on a trail overnight.
- Navigation Aids - A compass and maps are a must on all hikes. Make sure to protect your maps with plastic bags so they don't get wet in case it rains. GPS devices are ok but they are not a substitute for a compass and you should not rely on technology in case it fails.
- First Aid Kit - Hikers should pack a small first aid kit in case of injury. The kit should include items such as bandages, gauze, blister dressings, gloves, and more. You should know how to use these items and we recommend a Wilderness Safety Course.
- Emergency Shelter - Pack a thermal tarp or large bright coloured plastic bag. This will not only help protect you from the sun or rain but the bright or reflective colour can help rescuers spot you from the distance.
- Pocket knife - A good quality knife that is sharp can help you cut branches to be used for a fire or to build shelter.
- Sun protection - Pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to ensure you protect yourself from the sun, which can be debilitating and lead to disorientation and dehydration.
Bears live in British Columbia and it is possible to come across them along the trails. Black bears are much more common than Grizzley bears, however both can pose a real danger if they feel threatened. Make noise while you are hiking to alert the bears of your presence. If you should come across a bear, calmly turn in the other direction and slowly walk away.
There are some protective products you can buy for bears including special bear mace. Bear spray can be purchased at most outdoor sports stores located in British Columbia.
For more information about bear safety, refer to the Get Bear Smart Society
Check the weather conditions the day of your hike
Always watch the weather conditions on the days leading up to your planned hike. Although it is possible to hike in the rain, some of the steeper and rockier trails can be very slippery posing great dangers to anyone attempting to hike them.
Watch for signs or markers along the trail, keep an eye on the time to ensure you are able to complete your hike before darkness, and be careful of potential dangers like unsafe terrain or sudden changes in weather. Staying alert is important as you can run into unexpected conditions along the trail.
For more information, refer to the following websites:
Coquitlam Search and Rescue
North Shore Search and Rescue